Transgender troops: 'We're not burdens'

Transgender troops: 'We're not burdens'
Posted at 7:32 PM, Jul 26, 2017

After serving their country for years all it took was a few tweets on Wednesday to upend their lives.

Army Staff Sgt. Patricia King woke to her phone blowing up with calls and messages about the return of a ban on transgender people in the US military.

President Donald Trump announced the policy reversal on Twitter. The move left King and other transgender active-duty members wondering how the policy would affect those who have been serving openly.

"I felt like I had just gotten fired via tweet," King told CNN.

Until she hears otherwise from her command, the infantry soldier said she plans to continue going to work. After 18 years of service and three tours of duty, she cannot imagine leaving the Army.

"The great thing about being in the military is when we take our oath we take it to our country," she said. "My service is not diminished in any way by what has transpired, and I'm eager to continue proudly serving my country."

The National Center for Transgender Equality estimates that more than 15,000 transgender people are serving in the military, some openly, some not. For many, the Pentagon's decision in 2016 to lift the ban on transgender service members was a watershed moment that signaled a new era of acceptance.

Now, active-duty transgender service members say their lives are in limbo.

'What does this mean for us?'

Transgender people have long served in the military without identifying as such. In a news conference in New York City Wednesday, a 91-year-old World War II veteran said she hid her identity as a transgender woman because she thought she was the only one.

Joanne Borden said she knows better now, and so should the military.

"I know a great many transgender women who have served in Korea and the swamps of Vietnam," she said. Now, suddenly, "transgender people are not good enough to face death and die for our country."

For King, the ban's lift meant she could finally be herself on the job. For years, the infantry soldier lived a double life of presenting as a man on base by adhering to male grooming standards and using men's facilities. At home and with friends, she was the woman she felt she'd always been.

By 2015, she had started to transition medically and legally. She changed her name on government-issued identification. The 2016 policy enabled her to formally transition in the military.

She started adhering to female grooming standards in July with the support of her command. She began the process of changing her gender marker in Department of Defense personnel files.

Now, she's not sure what's next. Trump's announcement leaves more questions than answers, King said, especially for active transgender troops.

"I think there's some ambiguity in the statement that was made and it's going to take some further development to figure out the intent," she said. "The policy to allow people who are serving openly has been in effect and is going strong. What does this mean for us?"

SEAL Kristin Beck on Trump's tweet

Acting on 'bad advice'

Despite the uncertainty, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Blake Dremann said he plans to continue working, too. He just wants his work to speak for itself.

The 36-year-old transgender man enlisted in the Navy in 2005 after graduating from Ozark Christian College with a degree in biblical literature.

"I wanted to serve my country," he told CNN. "We were in a time when volunteers were needed and I decided to step up."

The St. Louis native didn't plan on staying this long; he was going to continue his studies and eventually become a chaplain. But he fell in love with his job and doesn't plan on ending it anytime soon.

He's been deployed 11 times. Before starting his transition in 2013, Dremann was one of the first women to integrate the previously all-male submariner corps. The Navy recognized his work in 2015 with the the Vice Admiral Robert F. Batchelder Award, its top logistics distinction.

"We've shown them we're not burdens," he says of the military's transgender service members. "I'm fully qualified. I'm fully deployable."

Dremann said he believes that the President thinks he's doing the right thing based on what his advisers are telling him.

"This is just really bad advice he's been given," he said. "To think we are suddenly out of a job based on bad information is unkind."

A debate over transgender costs

It was no secret that the Defense Department was reviewing the policy as part of a process to allow the Pentagon to determine how to accept new transgender recruits into the military. On the eve of a one-year deadline, Defense Secretary James Mattis announced that he was delaying the implementation of the new policy, saying he needed more time.

In announcing the reversal, Trump cited "tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail." He said the decision was made in consultation with generals and military advisers, but provided no further details or evidence for his claim.

However, a Rand Corp. study commissioned by the Department of Defense and published in 2016 concluded that letting transgender people serve openly would have a "minimal impact" on readiness and health care costs, largely because there are so few in the military's 1.3 million-member force.

The cost could range from $2.4 million and $8.4 million, an amount that would represent an "exceedingly small proportion" of total health care expenditures, the study found.

'We have a job to do'

Many active transgender service members were holding out hope that the policy would stand and more transgender troops would be welcomed into their ranks, said King, who is stationed at Fort Lewis in Washington state.

But, she's not going without a fight. She's a soldier and a patriot, after all.

"When a problem is presented, I see it as an opportunity to take action. For me, this means figuring how to proceed, whether through leading conversations or contacting members of the government and sharing my story," she said.

"Transgender service members are proudly serving our country and we will continue our service. Nobody is going to just walk away because we have a job to do."